This year’s OFA Short Course (July 14 to 17, in Columbus, Ohio) was phenomenal.
As I have said before, it’s one of the few meetings where I learn every bit as much (or even more) as I am hopefully imparting on others. That is the beauty of this event; the only frustrating part is that there are so many choices of simultaneous educational sessions and it’s nearly impossible to see and talk with everyone you’d like to visit with. But what an amazing four days!
One of the highlights this year was being on a panel with Brian Minter, Stan Pohmer and Marvin Miller during the “Summit on Value, Relevancy, and Authenticity of the Horticulture Product.“ During this summit, roundtable discussions among audience members took place regarding issues confronting the floriculture industry today and beyond. Debriefings from these sessions were illuminating and the highlights from them are what I want to focus on in this column.
When asked about the current challenges facing their respective businesses, audience members stated the usual suspects: weather conditions, the economy, eroding market share, identifying and connecting with the customer, slow traffic and declining customer counts at retail. The remainder of the 4 hour, 25-minute summit was devoted to figuring out how value, relevancy and authenticity are the antidote to these challenges.
Value represents the tradeoff between the benefits derived from consuming products with a varying mix of attributes relative to the sacrifices (dollars paid) made in getting them. So the key for firms in the floriculture industry is to provide greater value to customers.
The interesting thing is that the difference in value that customers perceive (when comparing your firm to competitors) can either be real or perceived through various signals you relay through your marketing efforts. As perceived value goes up, of course, demand for the product or service becomes stronger. As perceived value goes up, you hold a stronger place in the consumer’s mind among competitors. The value proposition (or differentiation strategies) for all firms in the industry in the future must focus on the unique ways in which quality of life is improved for its customer base.
Relevance refers to the extent to which consumers value quality of life attributes. The traditional relevance of flowers and other plants that has been put forward by our industry historically has focused on the fact that landscapes and interiorscapes are made “more pretty” by them. Given that recent sales within our industry have flattened (indicating we are in the mature stage of our life cycle), this relevance no longer carries the weight it once did. Thus, the need to emphasize other quality of life benefits such as the economic, environmental and social benefits of our products.
For example, some of the economic benefits associated with flowers (and flowering shrubs and trees) are that they beautify and help draw customers to shopping districts, reduce shopper stress while they are there, enhance overall curb appeal for local businesses, boost apartment and commercial building occupancy rates, increases revenue from tourism, create local jobs (from various interiorscape and landscape design, installation and maintenance activities), increase residential and commercial property values and even reduce the costs of street repairs
While the list of environmental amenities, otherwise known as ecosystems services, is quite exhaustive, it is impressive to consider a mere subset of them such as the carbon that is sequestered, oxygen that is generated, wildlife that is attracted, biodiversity that is enhanced, the heat islands that are offset, the air, noise and glare pollution that is reduced, soil erosion that is mitigated, storm water runoff that is more efficiently handled, wind damage that is minimized, and the reductions in energy use that arises from the temperature buffering that plants provide around buildings. Needless to say, many of these environmental amenities translate into substantial economic contributions to local economies as well.
While these economic and environmental benefits may not come as much of a surprise, the plethora of health and well-being benefits might. Peer-reviewed research has documented a person’s ability to concentrate in their work environment is enhanced by the presence of plants and flowers. Children learn faster and are less distracted in flower and plant-filled environs as well, and flowers have even been documented to reduce stress levels and hypertension, and ease the effects of attention deficit disorder. Any person who has given/received flowers or plants as gifts knows the joy and excitement they generate and these powerful emotions carry over to beautified interiorscapes and landscapes as well.
However, the plethora of benefits provided by flowers is not common knowledge, let alone ingrained in modern day American culture. Humans often have difficulty in even seeing flowers or plants in their own environment, much less connecting plants to tangible benefits — a phenomenon called “plant blindness.” For most people, flowers and other plants are a part of the subconscious sector of mental life, perceived as the backdrop, not the main actors in the playing out of our everyday lives. Thus, it is all the more important for all industry firms to emphasize these types of messages in the marketing efforts of their individual companies.
Authenticity, the last leg of the three-legged success stool, refers to how believable this messaging is to end consumers. The premise here is that consumers, no longer content just with available, affordable and excellent offerings, purchase goods and experiences that reflect their self-image — or the image they want to portray to the world. “Real” is good. “Fake” is not good. In an affluent world saturated with affordable products, there are three new scarcities — time, attention and trust. Waste any of these for the consumer and you’re dead in the water.
In summary, there is an old adage that says: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” This latest economic downturn has certainly caused all of us to do some things differently than we had been doing them previously.
We’re doing more with fewer people and, in some cases, fewer resources. But as we move into the future, even more aggressive marketing emphasizing our value, relevancy, and authenticity will be needed to ensure that we are considered as necessities in our consumers’ lives and not mere luxuries!
Charlie Hall is Ellison Chair in International Floriculture in Texas A&M University’s department of horticulture. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .